Mediation and the theory of games

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When we think of the so-called Game Theory, we must bear in mind that its main objective is to study the behavior that is supposed to be rational in situations of play, where there are interactions between two or more people whom we call players. In these, the results are conditioned to the actions carried out by the agents at each moment or in turn.

If we take this to the theory of conflict, we find ourselves in the utility of the application of the rules of the game, when making decisions in the negotiation of the exit to a problem. That is why a game is any situation in which two or more players compete: we speak of dominoes, chess, cards, and, why not, the monopoly, the game of the prisoner, or the scenes.

Three big scenarios must be questioned when we talk about the success of a player to achieve the goal of winning the same. On the one hand, chance. On the other, the rules of that game and, finally, the dexterity of the action or decision making that each player performs, that is, the strategy relative to the action that a player must undertake in each possible state of the game.

The Game Theory is linked, mainly, to Mathematics, but nowadays we could extrapolate it to the work of the mediator. But, above all, the main application to our different sciences is that they try to find rational strategies in situations where the result depends not only on the strategy of a participant and the conditions of the moment but also on the strategies chosen by other players, with different or coincidental objectives.

In the 50s, there was an important development of the Theory of Games that started from Princeton, with Luce and Raiffa (1957), Kuhn (1953), who allowed to establish a way of working cooperative games. But it was the Nobel Prize winner, John Nash, who in 1994 defined the so-called Nash equilibrium and allowed to extend the theory of non-cooperative games to others more general than those of zero-sum (those in which what a player wins is lost by others ).

Thus, we can talk with some interest to the mediators of the so-called “prisoner’s dilemma”, the mathematician Albert W. Tucker, who in 1950 provides an example of the application of game theory to real life. In over sixty years Since then, many professionals and scientists have used it, to the point of being a classic for the determination, for example, of assigning responsibilities or adopting decisions to reach an agreement, among others.
Decisions that, by the nature of the mediation, are taken by the media, taking care of the mediators that they are what is attributed to the success of the agreement reached.

Really get into the Game Theory can be quite easier than it seems. It is said that “I act in one way, you act in another,” and, from that moment on, “something happens” taking into account that this result is the product of the decision and what each one of us does.


The “prisoner’s dilemma” analyzes how the fate of each one depends on the actions of the other. But let me, as we have mentioned, tell you about the well-known “prisoner’s dilemma”. Two people are arrested, imprisoned and the trial date is set. The prosecutor of the case speaks with each prisoner separately and presents them with an offer:

  • if he confesses against the partner, all charges against him will be withdrawn and the confession will be used as evidence to condemn the other. The sentence you will receive will be 20 years.
  • If he does not confess and his partner does, he will be sentenced to 20 years and his partner will be free.
  • if both confess, they will be sentenced to 5 years in prison.
  • if none confess, they will be sentenced to 1 year in prison.
  • In the “prisoner’s dilemma”, the destiny of each one depends on the actions of the other. Individually, confessing would be the best option, but if both do it, the punishment is worse than if both are silent.

“When you choose something, that has an impact on other people,” says Paul Schweinzer, “The Theory of the Games is to take into account the impact of my decisions on others when I’m going to take them.” I think that from these assessments we must take into account the strategies to be followed in a situation of conflict that is presented to us at the mediation table.

Therefore, it is not a matter of applying this method in any decision-making, but in the strategic ones. We try to find agreements or solutions where it is not only pure intuition that we put in value. The analysis starts from predictions of the behavior of others, not the behavior itself, without knowing the decisions of the other players. It’s what happens in a game of chess. The player usually before moving a piece thinks about the move of his opponent and anticipates the play to finally win. The decision-making and analysis are always made looking for a useful function, an objective.

When we meditate, the decision that the parties make will be intertwined, in such a way that the decision taken by one of the parties will depend to a large extent on the actions and decisions of the other party and vice versa.
Another example of a game adapted to mediation, we can find it in the so-called “let’s make a deal”. The premise of this game has been used by many televisions to entertain the public. Thus the game raises the person who is competing, for example in a television program, which must choose between three doors. Behind one of them, we imagine there is a car, while behind the other two there are objects of very low value.

After the contestant chooses one of the doors, the presenter opens one of the remaining two. A piggy bank appears. Next, ask the contestant if he wants to choose the other door instead of the initial one. Although intuitively it seems that changing the door does not increase the chances of winning the car, the truth is that if the contestant maintains his original choice he will have a ⅓ probability of winning the prize and, if he changes it, the probability will be ⅔. This problem has served to illustrate the reluctance of people to change their beliefs even though they are refuted by logic.


It is very common that in a mediation process the media have to discard possibilities until they themselves find the solution. Here we propose to divide into several groups, to analyze the following situation. You are a surgeon of a large hospital and belong to a commission that must make the important decision to determine which person you will transplant from the heart since only one donor arrived and there are 7 patients in urgent waiting for such a transplant. Which patient do you think should receive the transplant? Why? The commission has to reach an agreement within 20 minutes and the patients are the following:

  • A famous surgeon of 31 years, without children, and who is highly valued.
  • A 40-year-old teacher who has two small children.
  • An 11-year-old girl who studies music.
  • A young woman of 15 years pregnant with 2 months, single and without children.
  • A priest of 30 years.
  • A 17-year-old boy with his waiter income keeps his parents.
  • A scientific woman about to discover the AIDS vaccine, lesbian.
  • All have been analyzed and are perfectly compatible with the transplant and we must agree on who will do it and argue the decision, otherwise, the dynamics would not be correct. Who will finally be?

Do not forget that there are many possibilities for learning through the theory of games, not only for those who designed their origins, mathematicians but also for all those who, with effort and dedication, we dedicate ourselves so that others see an opportunity, where they only see a problem.

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